Martinborough: Burgundy of the South

The NZ Wine Navigator team is excited to be representing Martinborough in our Kiwi wine line up, but we’ve heard you ask, “What’s so special about this region?” Wellll, if you haven’t tried Martinborough wines, you’re missing out!

When early Martinborough plantings were first tasted by wine experts, those experts were blown away by how similar the wines were to top Burgundies. Experts were especially amazed by how young the vines were, with a youthful age of merely 20+ years (remember, we compare this to vines of Burgundy)! Martinborough wines are both powerful and nuanced, they show early drinkability, alongside incredible aging potential.

The winemakers in Martinborough were far ahead of the game with their initial plantings of grapes in the ͚80s…the 1880s! Unfortunately, like California, prohibition halted wine production in the region until the 1970s. Following a governmental study which showed that the soils and climate were perfect for grape growing, a flood of hobbyist winemakers arose in Martinborough, transplanted from the nearby capital of Wellington. Initial plantings were a mix of Bordeaux and Burgundy varieties with two distinct camps forming around which would perform the best. In the end, it was Pinot, which ripened earlier and achieved full ripeness each vintage, while Cabernet struggled.

So what makes Martinborough so special? There are several climatic and geological causes at work:

Low rainfall: Martinborough is the driest region in the North Island, and vines that don’t get too much water result in more concentrated flavors. (If you ever get the chance to try wine grapes that are perfectly ripe you’ll be in for a real treat, they are so much better than the green table grapes we’d eat as kids!)

Free-draining soil: The Martinborough region is crisscrossed by ancient river beds which provide gravel and alluvial soils that ensure the vines roots dig deep to reach water. Deep-rooted vines allow for exposure to many layers of soil with the benefit of added complexity as well as resilience in very dry years.

Significant daily temperature variation: The mountains and hills surrounding Martinborough not only stop the rain, but the cool air from the top of the mountains comes down into the valley increasing the difference between the hottest part of the day and the coolest. This allows for long, slow ripening and the development of seriously complex flavors.

Martinborough pinots have stood up against some of the best in the world due to an amazing combination of climate, soil, foresight and hard work. They remain a perennial favorite of wine critics and sommeliers around the world for good reason. If you love good Burgundy you’ve got to try some of this! We recommend Big Sky Te Muna Pinot Noir 2014.